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The Royals who ghosted us in 2018

What happened to these guys?

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Despite a 104-loss season, there were many great memories for Royals fans from players like Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, and Ryan O’Hearn. But what about those players we have nearly no memory of? Those players that were here one minute, then gone, never to be heard from again? What happened to those guys anyway? Let’s get an update.

What happened to Jorge Soler?

Remember when we were talking about Jorge Soler as a potential All-Star candidate? The slugger acquired from the Cubs for Wade Davis seemed to finally live up to his potential by hitting .265/.354/.466 with nine home runs in his first 61 games. He fouled a pitch off his foot in a game on June 8 against Oakland and exited the game. He initially wore a boot on the foot, but was only expected to be out a few days with what was thought of as a bone bruise.

Soler returned a few games later and played in three games before tripping out of the batter’s box in a June 15 game against the Astros, fracturing his left first metatarsal. The initial diagnosis projected him to miss six weeks. Soler went on a rehab assignment to Omaha in late August with the hope of activating him when roster expanded, but a build-up of fluid in his bone marrow caused the Royals to shut him down for the season.

Will he return in 2019? Soler shows enough potential for the Royals to consider him a major part of their outfield, but his consistent injury problems may lead them to handle him with care next year. Expect to see him mostly at designated hitter with plenty of off-days to keep him fresh, but if healthy, he will be hitting in the middle of the lineup.

What happened to Nate Karns?

The Royals acquired Karns in a deal for Jarrod Dyson before the 2017 season, and the right-hander showed signs he could miss bats, but needed to work on consistency and going deeper in games. He landed on the disabled list in late May of that year due to forearm stiffness and fluid build-up in his elbow. He would eventually get thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, ending his season.

Karns was tendered a contract and seemed to be in line to be the fourth-starter coming out of spring training. But just before Opening Day, Karns landed on the disabled list with inflammation in his elbow. The Royals expected him to return after a week, but he suffered setbacks and was shut down in early May. He was said to be “progressing” in extended spring training in Arizona, but the right-hander would not throw a single pitch for the Royals in 2018.

Will he return in 2019? Karns will turn 31 this November and has an extensive history of injuries. The Royals still have two years of club control left with him, but may consider him too injury-prone at this point and could non-tender him rather than pay him over a million in guaranteed money through the arbitration process.

What happened to Jesse Hahn?

Hahn had a promising start to his career with a 3.13 ERA in 170 innings over his first two seasons with the Padres and A’s, but had trouble staying on the field. The right-hander was acquired with Heath Fillmyer from Oakland in exchange for Ryan Buchter and Brandon Moss before the 2018 season. Just a few weeks into spring training, Hahn sprained his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).

Rather than get Tommy John surgery, the common recovery plan from a UCL sprain, Hahn opted to go with a rehab plan instead, hoping to get on the field faster. He pitched in a few rehab appearances in the minors in late July, but was shut down in early August. In late August he had surgery using a “primary repair procedure”, that will keep him out six months, a shorter rehab timeline than Tommy John surgery.

Will he return in 2019? Hahn has made just 50 MLB starts in his five-year career, mostly due to injury, and is a non-tender candidate this winter. The Royals could bring him back on a minor league deal, although he may not be ready by the start of the season.

What happened to Cheslor Cuthbert?

Cuthbert looked in line to be a starter this year when it seemed Mike Moustakas was departing, but when Moose came back on a one-year deal, Cuthbert had to bounce around the field to find playing time. He got into 30 games over the first six weeks, but hit just .194/.282/.301. He landed on the disabled list in mid-May with a lower back strain, and the Royals expected Cuthbert to be out less than two weeks.

He finally began a rehab assignment with Omaha in late June, but lasted just a few games before he suffered a “setback” and ended his rehab. In late July he reported “minor stiffness in the back” while working out in Arizona. He would not appear in a baseball game the remainder of the season.

Will he return in 2019? Had Hunter Dozier played well, it would have been easy for the Royals to cut ties with Cuthbert this off-season. But with third base still up in the air, Cuthbert could get another shot. He will turn 26 this November, is out of options, and has spent much of the last two seasons out with injury, so the Royals could decide to move in a different direction.

What happened to Bubba Starling?

The fifth-overall pick in 2011 seemed poised to finally make his Major League debut with an opportunity to seize the center field job. But the oblique injury that cut his 2017 season short resurfaced in spring training, causing him to begin this season on the disabled list. He returned to play in Omaha in late April but re-injured his oblique after just two weeks.

In late July, after a handful of rehab games in Arizona, Starling dislocated his left index finger while getting out of bed. He would be out of action for a month, returning to play in five rehab games with Idaho Falls to end the year. He will play in the Dominican Winter League this off-season.

Will he return in 2019? Starling will likely be designated for assignment this winter, as the Royals will need his 40-man roster spot for more productive players. Perhaps they will bring him back on a minor league deal, but considering the comments from former Royals minor league coach Jaime Quirk questioning Starling’s work ethic, a change of scenario might be the best outcome.

What happened to Kyle Zimmer?

No one really expected Zimmer to be healthy this year, right? The fifth-pick in the 2012 draft has pitched in just 259 innings in seven years since being drafted, and just 41 in the past three years. He got into one spring training game in big league camp before being shipped to minor league camp, and was designated for assignment at the end of spring training to open up a 40-man roster spot. He cleared waivers and re-signed with the team on a minor league deal, but did not pitch a single inning this year.

Zimmer went to work with Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball, who uses modern technology and unorthodox methods to develop pitcher mechanics.

Will he return in 2019? Zimmer can be a minor league free agent this winter, free to sign with anyone. There may be some loyalty to the team that has been patient with his long list of injuries, but there has to be a limit to how much rehab the Royals are willing to pay for.

What happened to Ashe Russell?

The 2015 first-round pick has been pretty enigmatic since being drafted, showing up to the draft in a loud ensemble, pitching just two innings in 2016 before being shut down over “confidence issues” and an inability to throw strikes, then taking a leave of absence from baseball in mid-2017. He resumed a throwing program in Arizona this spring and even showed up on a minor league roster, although it was later revealed it was just for technical reasons, and Russell never appeared in a game this year. There was talk he could end up in the Instructional League this fall in Arizona, but he is not listed on the roster.

Will he return in 2019? The Royals aren’t likely to cut ties this early with a kid they have invested so much in, but whether Russell can return to the mound any time soon remains anyone’s guess.

What happened to Brady Singer?

The 18th overall pick in this year’s draft finished his impressive collegiate career with a trip to the College World Series, then signed with the Royals shortly thereafter. Singer was nursing a hamstring injury over his last few games with the Florida Gators, and the Royals wanted to give him plenty of time to recover. He showed up on prospect lists this summer and was ranked #64 overall by Baseball America. Singer has begun pitching in the fall Instructional League in Arizona and has shown some of the stuff that made him a first-round pick.

Will he return in 2019? Singer could be a non-roster invitee to big league camp and seems likely to join Florida teammate Jackson Kowar in Lexington, if not at a higher level. He should be promoted rather aggressively and it is not unthinkable that he could end up in Kansas City before the season ends.